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Tennis Leg... the Unknown Malady!

November 18, 2003 09:50 AM

by Jim Brown, Ph.D.

Everyone has heard of tennis elbow, but fewer people are familiar with tennis leg. Tennis leg is a strain (a stretch, tear, or complete rupture) of the gastrocnemius, which is the larger of the two muscles in the calf. Tennis and soccer players, among others, can injure the muscle by pushing off or moving forward quickly. “

“Tennis leg seems to be an injury that occurs after the age of 40,” explains Gary Levengood, M.D., an Atlanta orthopedic surgeon. “Among tennis players, warming up and stretching don’t seem to prevent the strain. I see lots of patients who were hurt during the second set of a match.”

Levengood, who suffered the injury himself while playing soccer, describes the pain as feeling like being shot or kicked in the leg. “Although it could be farther down on the leg, the pain is usually felt about four inches below the crease of the knee on the inside part of the calf,” he says. “In addition to the pain, it will be difficult to walk, the area may become discolored, and there may be swelling. In some cases, there is a noticeable depression in the muscle.”

Self-treatment should include rest, ice, light compression, and elevation (RICE). “Although it’s possible to recover without medical intervention,” advises Levengood, “return to physical activity will usually be faster if a physician treats the injury and prescribes a program of rehabilitation. Electrical stimulation may be used to produce muscle contractions, then light stretches are recommended as part of the rehabilitation process. Recovery can take two or more weeks.”

One of those stretches is performed by pulling the toes toward the shin with a towel to the point of resistance and holding the position for 30 seconds. The second is a calf stretch, in which the person faces a wall and places the injured leg back with the knee straight and the other leg forward. Lean toward the wall, keeping the injured leg straight and, again, hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

© HMS Publishing, Inc.

Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at sportsmed@mindspring.com.

 

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